SOCIETY

A visit to the Dong Tam Snake Farm

Tuoi Tre

Updated : 02/10/2013 11:54 GMT + 7

The Medicinal Plants Cultivation and Research Center of Military Zone 9, known as the “Dong Tam Snake Farm”, in Binh Duc Commune in Tien Giang Province’s Chau Thanh District, is one of the largest snake-raising and snakebite treatment centers in the Mekong Delta, as well as is a popular spot for tourists, scientists and students.

The Dong Tam Snake Farm was given The Labor Hero award in 1989, and its museum was entered in the Guinness Book of Vietnamese records as the first snake museum in the country.

Scientific research, snake rearing, producing anti-venom serum and traditional medicine, as well as providing first aid for people bitten by venomous snakes are among the many tasks of the snake farm.

Working with snakes

“It’s not an easy job. There are more than 40 species of snakes reared at this farm”, Nguyen Huu Vien, an employee, shared. “We have to feed every snake, one mouse by one mouse, until they become familiar with their new home”, he sighed.

“Although we have experience, we have to be very careful while feeding them. We have to enter their cages slowly and quietly to prevent them from escaping. They are extremely aggressive wild reptiles with venomous fangs when they are hungry. Therefore, they may attack and kill us quickly right after escaping”, Vien explained.

The farm’s employees also have to pay regular attention to these reptiles in order to notice any health problems and treat them as soon as possible.

King cobras are the choosiest animals at the farm, and they also receive the most specialized treatment. Twice a week, each king cobra eats 1.5 kilograms of small snakes, which cost about VND300,000.

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An employee is unfreezing food of king cobras before feeding to the king cobras. Photo: Tuoi Tre.

At present, the farm is rearing 100 adult king cobras and 100 of their offspring. The biggest one is eight years old and weighs 12 kilos.

“Other kinds of snakes are fed toads and mice which only appear during the rainy season. Therefore, to ensure that they have enough food during dry months, from February to May, we must reserve tons of toads and mice in a cold storage system and help the snakes get used to frozen, rather than fresh food,” Vien said.

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A king cobra at Dong Tam Snake Farm. Photo: Tuoi Tre.

Snakebite treatment center

According to doctor Vu Ngoc Luong, the farm is producing anti-venom serum from the venom of their own snakes, each of which gives only one or two drops of venom every time it is extracted, equaling about ten drops every year. One gram of this toxin can kill about 165 people who weigh an average of 60 kg.

“On the other hand, it can also save these victims after being transferred to anti-venom form. Ten grams of venom can provide enough anti-venom serum for the whole country within a year”, Luong said.

“Originally, producing serum for snakebite treatment was the only purpose of Dong Tam Snake Farm. However, since succeeding in saving the lives of thousands of people bitten by poisonous snakes, the farm has become a well-known emergency center in the Mekong Delta, and the hotline number is my mobile phone number - 0918652742”, he added.

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Extracting venom is the most dangerous stage due to many potential risks that cannot be anticipated. Photo: Tuoi Tre.

Every year, the center receives over 1,000 victims of venomous snakes. Vien was one victim, ten years ago, when a king cobra’s fang stuck on his thumb when he was trying to feed it. Fortunately, he was treated immediately with a king cobra’s anti-venom in Dong Tam’s emergency center and recovered after several days.

Hai, another worker who was bitten, was not as lucky as Vien, as he lost half of his finger.

The Dong Tam emergency center is a public center that cures not only its members but also outsiders, such as the owner of a restaurant in My Tho city. Years ago, while killing a snake to serve customers, one of the snake’s fangs pierced his finger and forced him into a critical situation. He was foaming at the while being taken to Dong Tam. However, he was luckily saved, but lost the finger as a result.

In another case, Nguyen Huu Tai, 58, was attacked by a cobra on his way home three years ago. This was the most serious case the farm ever dealt with, and everyone still remembers it. When he was three kilometers from the center, Tai stopped breathing. Fortunately, after trying every effort, the center’s experts succeeded in resuscitating the old man. Since then, every June 14 of the Moon calendar, he has invited the whole center to join him for a huge meal to celebrate his reborn day and to repay them for their work.

Besides anti-venom serum, the Dong Tam Snake Farm also produces snake medicinal wine, anti-inflammatory, and Cobratoxan, which is a kind of skin cream used to reduce aches and pains.

“Furthermore, we are going to offer a service to provide farmers with breeding snakes and methods for raising them. It is part of the local poverty reduction program”, Luong shared.